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Guitar god Steve Kimock meets keyboard king Bernie Worrell

Guitarist Steve Kimock.

Visionary keyboard player Bernie Worrell is among the new recruits in guitarist Steve Kimock's band. But Steve wasn't the first Kimock whom Worrell joined in musical pursuits.

"My eldest son, John Morgan, is a drummer and a composer and he had a local funk gig that Bernie sat in with one night. Bernie was like, 'Oh, your dad plays music too?' "

Worrell can be forgiven, since the senior Kimock is an uncharacteristically low-key guitar god, going about his business for 30-plus years in myriad jazzy and jammy configurations with minimal fanfare.

Kimock's muted reputation belies a lengthy resume that includes pleasantly accessible projects with Bruce Hornsby to wildly experimental ones with Henry Kaiser and plenty of music that falls in between.


"He's right up there with any player," says Worrell, acknowledging that Kimock's profile is somewhat inverse to his talents. "Believe me, people will be trying to catch up to him."

The Steve Kimock Band with Worrell, drummer Wally Ingram, and bassist Andy Hess performs Monday at the Middle East in Cambridge. XVSK, featuring Kimock's son on drums, is opening.

Keyboard player Bernie Worrell (above) and guitarist Steve Kimock share a mutual admiration that carries over to their music.

The guitarist overhauled the previous incarnation of the Steve Kimock Band, which featured drummer Rodney Holmes, guitarist Mitch Stein, and bassist Alphonso Johnson.

"That was definitely more of a progressive rock band," says Kimock, who was reached in his home studio in Pennsylvania while packing up gear for his first extensive Steve Kimock Band tour in more than two years.

With Worrell, a driving force in George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic camp, Kimock finds himself moving toward music with a greater degree of lightheartedness.

"Bernie is such a pioneer of the squirrelly little synth thing. He is such a musical cat that he makes it work. And then he has all that he can do with traditional keys and with his European, classical training," Kimock says. "His stuff is tight. It's equal parts classical and cartoon."


Kimock says he had an aversion to synthesizers before opening up to Worrell's sound.

"Whenever I saw someone playing some little plastic red thing, I thought it lacked dynamic reality. It was just wrong," he says.

So Kimock was happily surprised the first time Worrell visited.

"He shows up with a bag no bigger than a purse, and pulls out these two little keyboards, and maybe a melodica, and plays the most compelling stuff," Kimock recalls.

That encounter was the beginning of some bridge-building between two artists with different backgrounds.

Worrell grew up a child prodigy and trained at the New England Conservatory. In the 1970s he teamed with Clinton and worked on groundbreaking funk albums by Parliament and Funkadelic. In the 1980s, Worrell worked extensively with the Talking Heads and is featured in the concert film "Stop Making Sense." In addition to countless guest sessions, Worrell has a string of solo albums, the latest being last year's release of jazz standards (given a distinct Dr. Woo treatment). Worrell's "Standards" also led to the formation of the nine-piece Bernie Worrell Orchestra, which the 68-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is working with in addition to his tenure with Kimock.

"All of it broadens my horizons and gets me away from boredom," Worrell says of his role changes.

Like Worrell, Kimock likes to move through musical settings. In 1980 he became a member of the Heart of Gold Band started by Keith and Donna Godchaux upon their departure from the Grateful Dead. That became the first of many other ventures with Grateful Dead offshoots right up to a recent stint playing with Bob Weir.


With the band Zero, Kimock came into his own, playing alongside masterful guitarist John Cipollina and developing as a songwriter. Kimock formed KVHW with former Frank Zappa band member Ray White in 1998 before launching the Steve Kimock Band in 2000.

Instead of cramming a signature sound into all of these different bands, Kimock instead developed into an incredibly empathetic player capable of going from a hard, psychedelic surge to a gentle, jazzy musing. Even signature songs such as "Five B4 Funk" and "Tangled Hangers" take on different textures as played by Kimock's various outfits.

"Having different things is what lets me keep an open-minded approach," says Kimock who likens each ensemble he plays with to an exercise in problem solving.

With bassist Hess from Gov't Mule (and Reed Mathis from Tea Leaf Green handling the low end on some dates) and drummer Ingram, a longtime collaborator with David Lindley, Kimock's rhythm players are a bit more rollicking and good-humored sounding than the previous SKB rhythm section.

Yet to Kimock, these change ups are not akin to a leap of faith.

"We all took a leap of faith when we were 13-year-olds and decided then we wanted to play music," says Kimock. "I'm 56 years old. I realize stuff happens because it wants to, when there are a bunch of things in the universe saying, 'Yes, yes, yes.' "


Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1.